Christie ally spared prison time at Bridgegate sentencing

NEWARK — The self-described mastermind of the George Washington Bridge lane closures will be spared prison time, a federal judge said on Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Wigenton, sitting in Newark, sentenced David Wildstein, a former top appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to three years of probation and 500 hours of community service, saying his full cooperation with prosecutors had led her to depart dramatically from sentencing guidelines.

Wildstein, who served as director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, faced up to 27 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

Prosecutors had also recommended a term of probation, saying in a letter to the judge that his cooperation was "absolutely critical" to securing the convictions of two accomplices.

Wildstein, 55, a childhood classmate of Christie, admitted under oath that he orchestrated the four-day lane closures in order to exact political revenge against a mayor who refused to endorse the Republican governor’s re-election campaign. The September 2013 stunt caused severe gridlock in Fort Lee and other New Jersey communities near the bridge.

The testimony of Wildstein, who served as director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, helped secure prison sentences against Bill Baroni, who was the deputy executive director at the Port, and Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff in the governor’s office.

Kelly and Baroni were convicted in November of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations after a six-week trial. Earlier this year, Kelly was sentenced to 18 months and Baroni was sentenced to 24 months. Both maintain their innocence and are appealing their convictions.

Christie repeatedly denied any knowledge of the lane-closure scheme, but the indictment of his top aides helped sink the governor’s presidential ambitions, and cratered his towering approval ratings within the state. A poll released last week showed Christie — who won re-election by a wide margin in 2013, before the plot was uncovered — with just 15 percent approval among New Jersey voters.

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